A case study carried out at a municipal drinking water treatment plant in southern Sweden showed that the formation of short-chain fatty acids in slow sand filters can result in severe off-flavour problems. When an extract of the headspace of the surface layer of a sand filter was subjected to gas chromatographic analysis with sensory detection (GC sniffing), several strong, rancid odours were detected. Mass spectrometric analysis of the same extract, before and after methylation, showed that substantial amounts of butyric acid, valeric acid and isovaleric acid were present in the analysed sample. The off-flavour caused by these compounds was removed by repeated shock chlorination of the malfunctioning slow sand filter. Analysis of fatty acid esters may provide an early warning of the described off-flavour problem.

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